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YouTube: a viable career?

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Pewdiepie, otherwise known as Felix Kjellberg, is the world’s most successful YouTuber. With yearly earnings exceeding $12 million, and a multimedia empire that now includes a book and two video games that run alongside his YouTube presence, Pewdiepie is a prime example of how a well-established video channel can propel a simple content creator to near celebrity status.

While Kjellberg and his millionaire YouTube contemporaries are obviously in the minority, there are thousands of other channels across the world that are lucrative enough to allow the personalities behind them to live comfortably. But while videos are the main driving force behind these channels, this type of content and the revenue it creates is often just a small part of what it means to be a YouTuber.

For a YouTube channel to become a viable long-term career, it needs to be treated as a small business.

For a YouTube channel to become a viable long-term career, it needs to be treated as a small business.  Obviously, the role that content creation has within that business, and the amount of time it takes up differs from channel to channel, but often a career as a YouTuber is just as much of a 9-5 job as any grad scheme.

I run a small gaming channel, largely as a hobby and as a way to learn some new skills. Putting together one 10-minute video regularly takes between 5-10 hours of work – and that’s for very simple content which I don’t rely on as my source of income. To have any hope of making my channel into a career, I’d have to aim to put out around three videos a week, for at least a couple of years. When you consider that that would be just to enable me to have a ‘product’ to distribute, and that I’m not factoring in admin, sponsorship or marketing, it’s easy to see how running a channel can become a full-time commitment. And this is without even considering cost.

Many YouTubers are forced to finance their content through part-time jobs, or by significantly cutting down on their living costs, so rarely is the platform itself enough to sustain a career.

Most graduate careers pay something in the region of £15,000-£30,000 per year. To make anything like that from YouTube alone would require a dedicated fanbase well into the tens, if not hundreds of thousands. It’s also worth noting that YouTube takes 45% of any ad revenue any of its content creators make and so for many, money has to come from paid promotions, third-party sites like Patreon or, as is common among many of the content creators I watch, streaming via sites such as Twitch. Many YouTubers are forced to finance their content through part-time jobs, or by significantly cutting down on their living costs, so rarely is the platform itself enough to sustain a career.

Long-term, I can’t see that YouTube will remain a viable way in which to build and maintain a career. There’s no guarantee that one day the ‘YouTube Bubble’ isn’t going to pop, leaving thousands of people out of a job, and the platform is now so busy that to carve out a profitable niche is nearly impossible. YouTube is a wonderful platform for all sorts of content that couldn’t exist anywhere else, but I don’t think it will ever be more than a means to show off your hobby to the world.

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